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A neuroscientific perspective on neurobiological differences in everyone

Posted on July 14, 2012 by James Kohl.

Jerry Sandusky — a head case puzzle By Robert M. Sapolsky July 15, 2012

Excerpt: “Self-discipline, impulse control, gratification postponement and emotional regulation are all just as much products of biology as anything else that emanates from the brain. The same types of evidence that allowed us to understand the role for biology in such things as abnormal sexual urges have also demonstrated a role for biology in giving in to those urges.”

Excerpt 2: “If we are going to incorporate biology into thinking about human behavior — as logic demands we do — then we have to consider how it applies to all our domains of behavior. There are no separate categories.”

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My comment (on separate categories):

What is known about adaptive evolution and the neuroscience of ecological, social, neurogenic, and socio-cognitive niche construction minimally ensures that hormone-dependent human brain development has enabled free will. The number of our choices clearly exceeds the more readily demonstrable conditioned responses that are linked directly to unconscious affects on behavior from sensory input via gene activation in hormone-secreting nerve cells of brain tissue in the hypothalamus of other mammals. These are the classically conditioned (Pavlovian) responses associated with nutrient chemical acquisition and reproduction in species from microbes to man.

For contrast, it is our operantly conditioned responses that are linked to Pavlovian UCS:CS pairings to ensure we respond with animalistic behavior to the salience of integrated sensory cues. Both classical and operant conditoning lead to powerful reinforcement of neurophysiological rewards. Unlike other animals, nonetheless, we can think about how our behavior is linked to neurophysiological rewards, and attempt to determine why we may behave badly, and what to do about it.

In this context, it may be important to know the difference between classical and operant conditioning so that we might better be able to alter our responses to sensory input directly linked to the epigenetic effects of olfactory/pheromonal stimuli via GnRH.

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Added comment: The focus of my model is on GnRH (gonadotropin releasing hormone) and the epigenetic effects of sensory input that allow GnRH to control hormone-driven behavior in other mammals.  Food odors and pheromones control hormone-driven behavior in other mammals. If they also controlled our behavior, we would be no different than other animals.

Some of us may not be different, but most of us have the ability to think about the consequences of eating too much food (e.g., obesity), in the same way we can think about societal constraints on our sexual preferences and sexual behavior (e.g., prison).  It is our ability to think about such things that ensures the separate categories of behavior that, in Sapolsky’s well-delivered opinion, do not exist.

The separate categories are 1) classically conditioned behaviors compared to 2) operantly conditioned behaviors.  It is long past time for us to think about how odors classically condition animalistic behaviors, and to think more about how to avoid responding to food odors and social odors and sexual odors without thought — as we do when we forget that our responses are also operantly conditioned.

Given what is known about the molecular biology of behavioral development, as humans, we can no longer credibly deny the biological facts.  Classical conditioning linked directly from olfactory/pheromonal input causes changes in intracellular signaling and stochastic gene expression, which links sensory input directly to changes in hormone-driven behavior. Operant conditioning links the rewards associated with the behavior to behaviors that are repeated, or not. We can think about which behaviors we don’t want to exhibit or don’t want to repeat.

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James Kohl
Retired medical laboratory scientist

James Kohl




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